Dreams of Steam leave you Beaming

Where did it all begin? This is an overview of the birth of the beam engine…..

Thomas Savery, a Devonian military engineer and inventor turned his attention to the problem of pumping water from the lucrative Cornish mines – we’re talking 1690s here! He successfully patented an atmospheric steam engine, which in truth closely followed the principles of a machine published by Edward Somerset way back in 1662 – such is life!

Savery’s early steam engine was mainly based on the compartmentalisation of steam by shutting off taps in order to create a partial vacuum. This was created by the condensing steam in a closed space that included the surface water deep in the mine via pipes. The suck of the vacuum dragged the water up into the pipes at the bottom of the mine and then another tap was shut off to retain it there. The tap to the outlet pipe was then opened to release the water. Needless to say, it was inefficient! It was also the only solution at the time to deal with flooding mines! Annoyingly, it could only raise water about 30ft, so mines needed a whole series of Savery pumps.

Savery’s pumps were employed ‘successfully’ for many years to maintain water supplies in various locations in London, including Hampton Court!

Amazingly, his original patent was extended by an Act of Parliament and it covered all types of steam engines that pumped water! Although Savery died in 1715, royalties from this somewhat lucky patent continued to be paid into his estate until 1733.

So, the genius that is Thomas Newcomen (also born in Devon) was forced to go into business with Savery when he invented the world’s first practical steam pumping engine. He improved Savery’s pumping engine by replacing the steam reservoir with a cylinder and moveable piston in 1710 – see? Genius!

The piston was actually originally invented by a French engineer called Denis Papin in 1690. The piston was forced up inside the cylinder by the pressure of the steam and sucked down by the vacuum created by water-cooled condensed steam. Newcomen attached the the top end of the piston to a rocking beam via a chain. The other end of said beam was attached to a pump deep in the mine underwater. The up and down movement of the beam caused the water in the mine to be drawn into the pump and forced to the surface.

Water could now be raised 150 feet! Newcomen’s Common Engines were built in large numers, with some remaining in commercial use for over 150 years!

Newcomen’s beam engines were a major leap in  technology and were soon being used to drain deep mines throughout Britain and Europe, so he should have been rich right? Wrong, that Savery patent denied him any financial success from the major contribution to deep lode mining. Newcomen died in 1729, just 4 years before Savery’s patent expired.

And there was the Hornblowers!

The Hornblowers were a Cornish family and pioneers in steam power in the 18th and early 19th century. Joseph Hornblower (1696-1762) worked as an installer of Newcomen beam engines in Cornish mines in the early 1700s.

Joseph’s eldest son, Jonathan Hornblower (1717-1780) was also a Newcomen engine master, building and installing them in the tin mines. Joseph’s youngest son, Josiah Hornblower (1729-1809) also followed the family trade and indeed became a mining master. He travelled to North America in the 1750s to advise on copper mining and built with British parts, what some say was the first steam engine on American soil!

Before I mention the next generation, we must address a certain Mr. James Watt.

James Watt was born in 1736 in  Greenock, a long way from the Southwest! But in 1754 he travelled to London to study instrument making.

Watt returned to Glasgow to work, repairing astronomical instrumentation and eventually opened a workshop manufacturing musical instruments, toys and various equipment and it was here that he first got his hands on a broken model of a Newcomen steam pumping engine. While repairing it he noticed the engine’s inadequacies and importantly, it’s inefficient use of steam. Watt developed the solution, the separate condenser and in 1765 he was able to demonstrate his breakthrough.

Funding the first full-size prototype was incredibly expensive, so this is where Matthew Boulton from the major Soho Foundry in Birmingham and his fat wallet enters the scene. Their partnership was a success and their first Boulton and Watt steam engine was complete in 1775.

With Savery’s patent long since expired, Watt was able to patent his ideas and financially benefit from it.

The Boulton and Watt engines made a 75% saving on coal in raising the steam, so the mine owners lapped them up. Importantly though, Boulton and Watt charged an additional license fee to the owners based on the coal saving made.

The company continued to develop their ideas by introducing double acting pistons, rotative motion, centrifugal governors and parallel motion to connect between piston and beam.

Watt died a very wealthy man in 1819 and the company continued to produce his engines.

And now we can introduce the Hornblower grandchildren.

Jabez Carter Hornblower (1744-1814) was Jonathan’s eldest son. He too became a Newcomen engine installer and went on to work for Boulton and Watt, building Watt’s engines too. He set up business with John Mabberley and built a new steam engine, but BOOOM, the might power of Watt’s patent saw it torn apart and poor old Jabez ended up in a debtor’s prison!

And finally, Jonathan Hornblower Jnr (1753-1815), youngest son of Jonathan Snr. He invented a compound steam engine in 1781, but his work was also successfully stopped by James Watt, who claimed it was his intellectual property.

Incidentally, the compound engine was successfully revived later on by the mighty Arthur Woolf!

There are several major contributors to the development of the early steam technology, but two more men need to be mentioned – William Murdoch and Richard Trevithick – they took the beam engines and gave us high pressure steam.

Another Scottish Engineer, William Murdoch was born in 1754 in Ayrshire. He initially worked as a millwright with his father, but made a bee-line for James Watt in 1777. In fact he walked 300 miles wearing a hand-turned wooden hat, which impressed Matthew Boulton so much that he was immediately employed.

He had an amazing career with Boulton and Watt and started there as a pattern maker. He was soon sent down to Cornwall to oversee the installation and repair of the engines in the Cornish mines. He became a master at tweaking the engines to increase their performance and so increased the revenues to the firm based on their dubious efficiency tax! Needless to say, Boulton and Watt loved him!

While keeping an eye on the ground for patent infringements for the firm, he had many original ideas of his own, which subsequently became the property of the firm. A major achievement was that of the sun and planet gear that achieved rotary motion by turning a drive-shaft.

Murdoch also invented the pneumatic despatch system and a door bell run on compressed air, iron cement, gas lighting and the use of steam to propel boats, but he was quite delighted by his steam carriage. It was a self-propelled steam road carriage – the first in Britain!

His employers weren’t in favour of this high-pressure steam and would not support him, so it was left to his neighbour – a Mr. Richard Trevithick to develop the steam road vehicle, but that’s another story!

So where can you see a surviving beam engine?

At the time of writing, there are 37 beam engines to be discovered on the GooseyGoo Industrial Explorer map. Just select beam engine in the By Category section on the map search and hit search.


Rather nice suggestions include:

The Levant Beam Engine

The engine at Strumpshaw Hall Steam Museum

Stretham Fenland Pumping Station

The original Newcomen engine in Dartmouth

The fantastic Elsecar Beam Engine

Markfield Beam Engine

East Pool Mine

Crossness Sewage Pumping Station

Coldharbour Woollen Mill

Claymills Pumping Station

Abbey Mills Pumping Station

Crofton Beam Engines

Goldstone Pumping Station

20th September 2016No comments, , Steam Engines
Hunslet Loco # 1215 – Restoration Update!

Hunslet 4-6- 0T number 1215 – progress report.

By Martyn Ashworth – Project manager – 31 st May 2016


Restoration of the ROD Hunslet 4-6-0 number 1215 tank is accelerating now as we head towards completion, steaming and launch, so here is a quick update and summary of where we are with it and of the critical path for completion of the restoration work.

See History of the Hunslet Loco # 1215 for more info HERE!

The loco 1215 has proved to be an interesting restoration project – there has been a high degree of conservation work required because of her originality, her history and her iconic status serving behind the allied trenches in WW1. Many of her components are stamped 1215, or 303 (her WD number) or even 37400, the original Hunslet batch order number from May 1916. 1215 will have to work for her living once she is operational again and she will have to be reliable in service, so this has meant that some quite drastic engineering work has had to be carried out some times and many old parts have had to be replaced with new ones because the old parts are worn out or cracked.

ALL the old parts have been retained and nothing is ever thrown away.

When 1215 came to our workshop it was relatively complete – the boiler had been removed from the frames and the Trustees had started to remove the very badly damaged cast iron block from between the frames at the front – this is essentially the smokebox saddle but it is actually much more besides and of all the items on 1215 that were badly damaged this was by far the worst. It is to the great credit of CIW of Coalville that they were able to recover this block for us and placing the heavily repaired casting back between the frames was one of the first milestones of the restoration finally achieved – but with many more to go.

We had a break from 1215 between about Christmas 2013 until August 2014 when we were all working flat out to complete work on our previous project – the restoration (rebuilding?) of Hudswell Clarke 0-6- 0WT “G” class number 1238 of 1916 for the Moseley railway Trust, so in all we have been at it for about four years now on 1215 which seems to be about right for this magnitude of job. Please bear in mind that this is only one or sometimes two days a week – we are all volunteers and although most of the team members are retired, many of us are not and a day job has to also be juggled with the commitment to restore these old locos.

Hunslet 1215

I always work using a “Critical path” for any project and 1215 is no different, so our progress is mapped out and the next stages are always being planned for. I mark-off the key stages or “milestones” when they are met and it is always good to see the ticked off list of these growing – when they are all ticked-off it means we have finished and we can bring in the next project!

1. Re-wheel the chassis – DONE

2. Overhaul the bogie – DONE

3. Take delivery of new boiler – DONE

4. Complete work on pistons and valves –

5. Complete work on the springs – DONE

6. Complete work on the brakes – DONE

7. Complete work on the couplers –

8. Make up all new pipe runs –

9. Fit repaired bunker to loco – DONE

10. Fit repaired water tanks to loco – DONE

11. Hydraulic boiler out of frames – DONE

12. Steam test boiler out of frames –

13. Fit tested boiler to frames, inc ashpan and cladding –

14. Fit cab top to loco –

15. Complete all detail work on the loco, inc painting –

16. Steam test loco and trail runs

As of the end of May 2016 the volunteer team have put in the grand total of 10163 man hours working on this loco – this does not include all the time that Ian Hughes, myself and others spend doing all the administration and drawings etc for the project. So far we have put in 2470 hours in 2016.The AVERAGE team turn out every Tuesday is now 12 people with 5 people on a Thursday, so we are a very productive team!

For the technically minded some of the work still outstanding on 1215 is as follows;

  • Complete fitting the new air and vacuum brake systems
  • Complete the sanding gear – make and fit feed pipes from top sanding dome
  • Brass cab windows acquired – these need new safety glasses fitting
  • Drill the new cab front for the window hinges and pivots
  • Machine up one new ROSCOE Lubricator from castings
  • Machine up two new FURNESS lubricators from castings
  • Machine up two rear cylinder drain taps from castings
  • Fit the cylinder end and valve chest covers
  • Fit new cylinder cladding covers
  • Machine new main steam pipes – lower halves made of cored phosphor bronze with upper halves made of copper
  • Make a new ash pan and fit it to the boiler
  • Fit new expansion links, die blocks and pins
  • Couplings now fully over hauled – these can be fitted once the pipe work is all in place between the frames
  • New crinolines made and fitted to the boiler – new cladding sheets now being cut to shape and fitted
  • New clack boxes on order – LH one is on the boiler. RH one is due at the workshop shortly
  • Fit two injectors to the loco and make up new pipe runs to these
  • Fit cab top back on loco and new cab front and cross bracket
  • Fit the already clad boiler to the frames and pipe it up. Drill holes in the smokebox saddle and bolt the boiler down
  • Fit chimney and dome top cover
  • Paint the entire loco!

All of this costs money of course and we have been extremely lucky in that we have been supported by various grant making bodies over the last four years. We have also been greatly assisted by the Trustees and the many supporters of WOLT who have given generously to the project and to one patron in particular, who also helped us with the 1238 project with considerable financial assistance. This well known heritage railway benefactor has twice helped us with match funding us so for every pound we raised he matched us.

If anyone reading these notes has been thinking about helping the 1215 project with a donation, now is definitely the time to do so – the loco 1215 needs YOU!

The volunteer workshop team are absolutely determined to see through the restoration of this loco to full working order once more – now the new boiler has arrived on site the clock is ticking and we will be counting down to the steam test.

There is still much to do, but we have all of this work in hand and it WILL happen.

To find out more, visit the website of the War Office Locomotive Trust (WOLT) –

Contact details for Ian Hughes are: and his phone number is 01887 822757 – (please leave a message – Ian will ring you back).

We urgently need extra funding now in order to see the job through to completion. WOLT is a registered charity and as such it is registered for gift aid. Gift Aid forms are available from the WOLT website or via Ian’s contact details above – this can further increase the value of a donation to the Trust by up to a further 25% and it comes from HMRC.

Thank You,


6th June 20161 Comment, , , , , Haulage | Locomotives | Rails | Relics | Restoration
History of the Hunslet Loco # 1215

The 1916 loco – 1215 – is a very important and historic narrow gauge steam locomotive.

Our locomotive was built by the Hunslet Engine Company of Leeds to the order and technical specification of the British War Office for use on the light railways supplying the trenches of the Western Front. They were designed and the first locomotive of the class was completed in just over 3 months – a remarkable achievement for a relatively small manufacturer who was already committed to manufacturing gun making equipment for the War Office.

They had lost a large number of tradesmen to the various regiments raised in Leeds, eg the Leeds Pals, and as such now had quite a large number of female workers.

The British War Office had finally concluded by late 1915 that the original transport plans of requisitioned horses and road transport was unsuitable for the conditions that the front had by now degenerated into, but the majority of British manufacturing was already turned over to the war effort in preparation for the Somme offensive, which started on July 1st 1916.

The fact that Hunslet managed to produce over 90 of this type of loco before the war ended was a remarkable effort.

Unfortunately, this was not enough for the War Office, so they turned to the enormous capacity of Baldwins in the United States, who turned out no less than 495 of their similarly proportioned locomotives – of which a small number still survive.


Our Hunslet is notable in a number of ways. It is only the 3rd one of the type built and it was actually the 2nd one to leave the factory as part of the initial order (37400) for 10 locomotives!

The 1215 was dispatched on the 12th August 1916 to France, though we do not know exactly where it headed to first. It is, however, well recorded that the Hunslet 4-6-0s were used on one of the first lines officially operated by the British forces.

We are also incredibly fortunate that of the few survivors of the type, 1215 is the only one that has a photograph of it in service as in September 1917 – it was snapped at Boisleux-Aux-Mont to the south of Arras. It was later involved in a slight misdemeanour with some ballast wagons just north of Arras, but after this time we have little information of its further war office service.


Post war, the War Office attempted to dispose of all surplus equipment and thus in 1924, loco 1215 passed through the Hunslet engine works again for repairs and a slight re-gauge on behalf of the Engineering Supply Company of Australia, and halfway around the world it went to then enter service at the Bingera sugar mill near Bundaberg in Queensland. Here it stayed for many years, the limited availability of steel for replacement locomotives during the second war prompted rebuilds and 1215 received a new boiler from the Bundaberg Foundry. Come 1957 and diesel locos had been introduced at Bingera so 1215 was moved north to the Invicta Mill near Townsville where a number of items were transferred off the resident sister loco Hunslet 1226, which allowed 1215 to run for a further 10 years.

By 1967, 1215 had been withdrawn, and it was presented to the Rowes Bay Bush Children’s home in Townsville (a scheme established by a WW1 veteran officer) where it was to remain next to the sea for a further 27 years. In 1994 this scheme closed down and after some discussion the locomotive was sold to a Brisbane based enthusiast who dismantled it and made a start on its restoration.


Ten years later (although progress had been made) the owners circumstances had changed, and the opportunity for acquisition and a return to the UK became available. Once fund raising was complete and an export permit was obtained (on the second attempt) 1215 became the first of its type to be seen in Europe for 40 years, and in doing so we reckon it completed its circumnavigation of the world as it returned via the Panama canal.

The next eight years brought periods of display at LOCOMOTION the National Railway Museum at Shildon and at Apedale, as well as visits to the Hollycombe Steam Collection and the Leighton Buzzard Railway, before developments and fundraising allowed a start on restoration.

Restoration was initially in a small way by the Trustees, but agreement was then reached with the team, lead by Martyn Ashworth (of Heritage Transport Supplies), who were then working on Apedale resident Hudswell Clark loco number 1238 (also of 1916) at a well-equipped workshop adjacent to a private engineering works in South Yorkshire, to take the project forward.

To cut a long story short the last four years, since the loco 1215 left Apedale, have been a mix of excitement, head scratching, frustration and relief involving a vast amount of emails, letters, driving, filing, sanding, machining, cutting more head scratching, some nail biting, appeals for support and with relief, notes of thanks.

Balancing this is the immense satisfaction of having a brand new boiler being finished off in front of a wheeled, piped and painted chassis with every item on it in great order!

This satisfaction is not just for the Trustees and the volunteer team – it must also be shared with the many organisations and individuals who have supported the project so far from the larger ones such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council (PRISM award), Statfold Barn Railway and Graham Lee, Garfield Weston Foundation, Foyle Foundation, Transport Trust, the Veronica Awdry Trust and our anonymous benefactor as well as the other individuals without whom we would never have reached the point we have.

However, there is definitely still room for others to share the satisfaction of completion as we push on to get the job done. So please help the team hit the target of returning 1215 to steam in her own centenary year.

Visit the website for more details.


6th June 2016Comments Off, , , , , Haulage | Locomotives | Rails | Restoration
Telling stories – the one that got away

In 1975 my brother and I took a holiday in Cornwall.

Not for a week on the beach at Newquay like most of the other men of our age, instead we elected to look at and photograph the legacy of the Cornish Tin Mining era.

We were into the hip cliché Industrial Archaeology

My brother had done the background planning, he had read a lot about Cornish mining, and was able to recognise most of the iconic engine houses in and around Camborne and Redruth. I was the up and coming budget photographer. To develop and print a roll of 36 exposure colour film in those days cost around £5.50; a week’s wages for me as a construction apprentice was £17.00.

East Pool Beam Engine © Morturn.

We had a tent and a sleeping bag each, no camp bed or mat, and we spent an incredible week living on fish and chips. I was shooting in black and white, Ilford FP4, and would develop the films when home in our mum’s bathroom. She loved us to death – honestly!

Before we even set-up camp, we came across East Pool and Agar Mine at Taylors shaft. In those days you bought a ticket at East Pool Whim that gave entrance to the Cornish Engine house at Taylor’s shaft.

It was there we met John Bolt, a retired Cornish miner – a shaftsman. John was working as a volunteer for the National Trust, and would open the engine house on a daily basis. John seemed at first a little bit tired of the visitors. Static Cornish Beam engines and retired Cornish miners don’t say a lot to the casual visitor, they invite you to bring something to the party first – it’s a test!

John Bolt.jpg

However we did bring something to the party, our thirst for knowledge, the need to know about an industry that shaped the face of the country, we passed the test and the stories started and did not stop for a week!

John had worked in the Cornish Tin Mines all his life, when he retired he ran a chicken farm nearby, but John’s identity was that of a Cornish tin miner. Over the week in Cornwall, we would pop in and see John every day, where he would tell us remarkable stories of his life underground, right up until the mine eventually changed over to electric pumps in 1954.
Taylors Shaft030

John was a shaftsman who maintained the Taylor’s pumping shaft at East Pool Mine – all 1,700 feet to the sump at the bottom. He told us that on occasions, he had also driven the 90” Cornish beam engine, and could have been one of the last people to see it working. The normal Cornish beam engine driver was a young chap who can been seen at work on a BP archive film, John knew him well.

John told us all about the layout of the pump rods, plunger and lift pumps, clack valves and the 5 other underground balance beams. It would take him an hour or so to climb up the ladders to the surface. The Cornish engine has a beam weighing around 52 tons, yet when the command to ‘blow poles’ was given, the driver “could move that beam a quarter of an inch” John would tell us.

John told me the story of a miner who had become trapped by his hand, and after couple of days still could not be freed. A doctor was bought down the mine, to anaesthetise the guy. As John held him steady the doctor cut his hand off; John said “in about three seconds”. John said the guy was back at work a week or so later, and happened to come across his own hand after some blasting. The guy just casually picked up the hand, looked at it and said “look, a perfectly good hand, nowt wrong with it”. The guy put the hand in his pocket and took it home with him!

East Pool Beam Engine. © morturn

I made a further visit to East Pool and Agar mine the following year, and again was entertained by John Bolt. He was a guy I thought would be around forever, so in 1977 I did another trip to Cornwall, only to find John’s green Reliant car was not outside the engine house.

I enquired inside to a well-spoken BBC accented middle aged gentleman, who casualty informed me John had died in his sleep over the Christmas holiday. As you can imagine, I was gutted. My feeling arose not only from the news of John’s death, but because this loss was presented to me by this other person, as just the passing of another doddery old man. He clearly stereotyped John as someone well past their sell by date who had passed away, and had made way for a new up and coming intellectual who was really going to give the visitor experience a proper job well done.

He was not in the same race. He did not have the capacity to see that the world had lost a giant of a man whose depth of practical hands on knowledge reached back several generations and brought the past alive.

John’s name, along with a few others, is etched into the glass window on the first floor of the engine house – the one overlooking the entrance door. John’s name is right in the place he loved to be, in a Cornish tin mine engine house entertaining the visitors with his remarkable stories…. Well only the ones who were able to pass his special test!

I wish I had made a tape recording of John’s stories, but the retroscope has yet to be invented, so now, I am the keeper of John’s memories, and need to tell the stories myself…. I must devise a test!

You can tell me facts and I will learn, you can tell me the truth and I will believe you, but if you tell me a story it will remain in my heart forever.

19th February 20163 Comments, , ,